Portugal’s PM apologises for Mozambique massacre 50 years ago
Image: @antoniocostapm

Portugal’s PM apologises for Mozambique massacre 50 years ago

… and says Mozambican liquified natural gas will be very welcome in Europe

The UK’s Sunday Times has carried a report on the fact that Portugal’s PM António Costa has apologised to Mozambique for the massacre of hundreds of civilians 50 years ago.

The relevance of this apology for the Times is that it is the paper that ‘broke the story’ in 1972, decades before the demand for  ‘24-hour news’, and the global reach of social media.

As the ST explains, there was a seven month delay between the massacre, and the Times printing its story – and when it did “Portuguese authorities dismissed the Times’ coverage as pure invention”.

But it wasn’t: “Peter Pringle, a young Sunday Times foreign correspondent, reached the remote village of Wiriyamu to confirm reports by two Catholic priests that Portuguese soldiers had herded villagers into a central square and ordered them to clap their hands and chant ‘goodbye’. The troops then opened fire.

“Soon after, Marcelo Caetano, the prime minister of Portugal at the time, visited Britain to mark the 600th anniversary of the Anglo-Portuguese alliance. Pringle’s stories and the newspaper’s editorials soured the mood for festivities. Harold Wilson, the Labour opposition leader at the time, demanded the trip be cancelled, and Adrian Hastings, the priest who had first alerted the Times, used an address to the United Nations to criticise the church’s role in colonial oppression. Mozambique won independence two years later”.

Visiting the country over the weekend, Mr Costa described the massacre as “an inexcusable act that dishonours our history”.

But was this a truly heartfelt apology, or an act of political expedience? 

Tabloid Correio da Manhã today suggests the latter, as State news agency Lusa has made much of the PM’s message that Mozambique’s liquified natural gas (LNG) will be “very welcome in the EU via Sines’ port”.

“The Portuguese State still owes a lot of apologies”, CM’s director general Eduardo Dâmaso explains – not just the one it has just given.

He refers to “the massacres of 1961 in Northern Angola, which also involved Angolan forces”; to (Major) Coutinho e Lima, who saved hundreds in Guileje, southern Guinea, and was then persecuted by military justice; to the “thousands of Africans that it abandoned” and the 800,000 Portuguese who saw their lives interrupted in the struggle for a decadent empire”.

When it comes to apologies, of course, they are “better late than never. But one should be coherent, not merely casuistic. This becomes excessively confused with opportunism”, he concludes.

‘Opportunism’ rings true: the PM’s visit seems to have been much more involved with encouraging Mozambique to send LNG to Europe, to help weather the fuel crisis fanned by Russia’s turning off of gas supplies.

“The decision is in the hands of the oil and energy companies”, stresses Lusa. 

Production that is about to start at the floating platform in the Rovuma basin “is already sold for 20 years – even so, the political will to approach in this area was clear, at a time when an energy crisis is affecting the world and, in particular, Europe”.

In his speech at the Portugal-Mozambique Business Forum in Maputo, the PM stressed that “first response” to the crisis involves accelerating the use of renewable energy, a transition in which “resources such as those in which Mozambique is rich, such as natural gas” will be needed.

“The start of natural gas exploration in Mozambique could surely not come at a better time for Mozambique and for those who are importers, as we are almost all the European Union (EU) countries,” he said.

“That is why we have every interest in the rapid stabilisation of security in Cabo Delgado: for humanitarian reasons” said the PM. (Cabo Delgado has for years been embattled by attacks by Islamic fundamentalists).

Armed attacks in the northern province have prevented construction of onshore gas liquefaction plants, which could supply new customers, says Lusa.

“If we do not increase the supply of natural gas, we will have difficulty in responding to this global crisis of inflation that is being transmitted from product to product, country to country and contaminating the world economy,” António Costa continued, even suggesting that “Mozambique will certainly be a happy contributor to the solution of the world energy crisis”.

If there is supply capacity, “we have every interest” that Mozambican gas, as well as gas from other origins, “may enter Europe through the port of Sines” – either to feed the future interconnection with Spain and France, or immediately for transfer.

“We are creating conditions so that, in the meantime, the port of Sines can function as a natural gas transfer port,” Costa stressed, pointing to the infrastructure as the Atlantic port “closest to the African continent” and “with deep water”.

“It is not overcrowded like ports in central and northern Europe are,”meaning that “berthing and transfer operations” are faster compared to ports “in Holland”.

This means a saving of four days per round trip, which Portugal’s PM considers relevant in the market for “large gas tankers”, natural gas carriers that “are a scarce commodity worldwide”.

Questioned by journalists, Mozambique’s President Nyusi reiterated that decisions are up to gas exploration companies.

He added that the construction of a second platform on the high seas was being ‘studied’ but that the situation on land is still not safe for the construction of larger projects.

Within all this, the fact that natural gas is considered to be a form of ‘renewable energy’ has been allowed to run unchallenged.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com